Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
As grand as the themes of good and evil, needs and deservings, power and responsibility and such forth are, superhero movies are generally pretty straightforward in premise: hero stops villain from wreaking havoc. As off-putting as this kind of simplicity might sound, it's usually the right way to go. If you pack enough substance into your characters and adhere your plot to these linear margins, you can actually wind up saying a healthy amount (and having a lot of fun). The Amazing Spider-Man 2 gets half of this formula down pat. Although Andrew Garfield's Peter Parker is still a moreover undistinguished identity, his emotional magnitude (re: his relationship with Gwen Stacy) is enough to keep him valid through the storm of lunacy that is his second feature. And it's not even that lunacy that holds him back. The problem isn't how wild his conquests are, how silly some of the action sequences feel, or how absolutely bonkers his villains turn out to be. It's all the other stuff (and yes, if you can believe it, there's a ton more going on in this movie than what I've already mentioned — that's the issue). All the plot twists, tertiary mysteries, ominous flashbacks, abject reveals, and weightlessly sinister pawns in this brooding game that, save for its fun with the baddies, takes itself way too seriously. All that stuff that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 thinks is necessary to make Peter Parker matter? It actually does just the opposite.
Peter is at his best when he's playing Tracy and Hepburn with the girlfriend he's perpetually disappointing (the eternally charming Emma Stone), or trying to win back the favor of the only remaining parental figure from whom he's rapidly slipping away (Sally Field, reminding us why she's a household name), or angling to connect with the mentally unstable engineer who just wants people to notice him (Jamie Foxx working his comic shtick with a frightening zest). We have the most fun with Peter when he's playing the simplest games, and we connect best with him on similar ground. But Peter and company, at the behest of The Amazing Spider-Man franchise's Sandman-sized aspirations, spend so much time exploring new avenues: the secrets surrounding the death and work of Richard Parker, the behind-the-curtains operations of OsCorp, the nefarious goings on in the waterside penitentiary Ravencroft.
Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
As a result of the grand stab at world building, there is just so much stuff that Peter has to wade through in this movie, dragging the likes of Gwen and his boyhood friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan, mastering angst, menace, and upper-class privilege all at once) into the dark crevasses of narrative waste. With so many diversions into the emotionally vacant, deliberately joyless explorations of Parker family origin stories, secret brief cases, and underground subways — The Amazing Spider-Man 2 rivals Captain America: The Winter Soldier in complexity, but forgets the necessary ingredient of fun — we barely have enough energy left when the good stuff hits.
And in truth, the good stuff isn't really good enough to sustain us through all the duller periods. Garfield and Stone do have laudable chemistry. Foxx is a hoot as Peter's maniacal new foe, especially when paired with the grimacing DeHaan. And the action, while often straying from any aesthetic authenticity, is nothing shy of neat-o. It's all passable, occasionally worthy of a hearty smile, but rarely anything you'll be definitively pleased you took the time to see.
But beyond coming up short in the micro, the film's regal downfall is its scope. With so much to do, both in accomplishing its own necessary plot points and setting up for those to come in future films, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 doesn't seem to take time to make sure it's having fun with its own premise. And if it isn't having fun, we won't be either.
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A kids’ movie without the cheeky jokes for adults is like a big juicy BLT without the B… or the T. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted may have a title that sounds like it was made up in a cartoon sequel laboratory but when it comes to serving up laughs just think of the film as a BLT with enough extra bacon to satisfy even the wildest of animals — or even a parent with a gaggle of tots in tow. Yes even with that whole "Afro Circus" nonsense.
It’s not often that we find exhaustively franchised films like the Madagascar set that still work after almost seven years. Despite being spun off into TV shows and Christmas specials in addition to its big screen adventures the series has not only maintained its momentum it has maintained the part we were pleasantly surprised by the first time around: great jokes.
In this third installment of the series – the trilogy-maker if you will – directing duo Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath add Conrad Vernon (director Monsters Vs. Aliens) to the helm as our trusty gang swings back into action. Alex the lion (Ben Stiller) Marty the zebra (Chris Rock) Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) are stuck in Africa after the hullaballoo of Madagascar 2 and they’ll do anything to get back to their beloved New York. Just a hop skip and a jump away in Monte Carlo the penguins are doing their usual greedy schtick but the zoo animals catch up with them just in time to catch the eye of the sinister animal control stickler Captain Dubois (Frances McDormand). And just like that the practically super human captain is chasing them through Monte Carlo and the rest of Europe in hopes of planting Alex’s perfectly coifed lion head on her wall of prized animals.
Luckily for pint-sized viewers Dubois’ terrifying presence is balanced out by her sheer inhuman strength uncanny guiles and Stretch Armstrong flexibility (ah the wonder of cartoons) as well as Alex’s escape plan: the New Yorkers run away with the European circus. While Dubois’ terrifying Doberman-like presence looms over the entire film a sense of levity (which is a word the kiddies might learn from Stiller’s eloquent lion) comes from the plan for salvation in which the circus animals and the zoo animals band together to revamp the circus and catch the eye of a big-time American agent. Sure the pacing throughout the first act is practically nonexistent running like a stampede through the jungle but by the time we're palling around under the big top the film finds its footing.
The visual splendor of the film (and man is there a champion size serving of it) the magnificent danger and suspense is enhanced to great effect by the addition of 3D technology – and not once is there a gratuitous beverage or desperate Crocodile Dundee knife waved in our faces to prove its worth. The caveat is that the soundtrack employs a certain infectious Katy Perry ditty at the height of the 3D spectacular so parents get ready to hear that on repeat until the leaves turn yellow.
But visual delights and adventurous zoo animals aside Madagascar 3’s real strength is in its script. With the addition of Noah Baumbach (Greenberg The Squid and the Whale) to the screenwriting team the script is infused with a heightened level of almost sarcastic gravitas – a welcome addition to the characteristically adult-friendly reference-heavy humor of the other Madagascar films. To bring the script to life Paramount enlisted three more than able actors: Vitaly the Siberian tiger (Bryan Cranston) Gia the Leopard (Jessica Chastain) and Stefano the Italian Sealion (Martin Short). With all three actors draped in European accents it might take viewers a minute to realize that the cantankerous tiger is one and the same as the man who plays an Albuquerque drug lord on Breaking Bad but that makes it that much sweeter to hear him utter slant-curse words like “Bolshevik” with his usual gusto.
Between the laughs the terror of McDormand’s Captain Dubois and the breathtaking virtual European tour the Zoosters’ accidental vacation is one worth taking. Madagascar 3 is by no means an insta-classic but it’s a perfectly suited for your Summer-at-the-movies oasis.
In or out of uniform, Mel Gibson seems comfortable in the thick of battle.
Such war-themed epics as Gallipoli, The Year of Living Dangerously, Braveheart and The Patriot either earned Gibson sterling reviews or consolidated his status as one of Hollywood's reigning box office champions.
For his latest tour of duty, Gibson leads 400 baby-faced U.S. troops into Vietnam's so-called Valley of Death for a gory account of the first major clash between American and North Vietnamese forces. As with Black Hawk Down, the fact-based We Were Soldiers focuses on U.S. troops pinned down by the enemy. What differentiates the two is that We Were Soldiers devotes substantial time to the troops' family life--in a terribly clichéd manner, regrettably--while attempting to humanize the enemy.
Chris Klein, Greg Kinnear and a wonderfully laconic Sam Elliott serve under Gibson's command.
Director Randall Wallace also knows the horrors of war. He wrote Braveheart, which earned Gibson an Oscar for his direction, and last year's Pearl Harbor.
Gibson flopped with his previous excursion into Vietnam, but 1990's comedic Air America crash landed with $30.5 million simply because it never the reached the scathingly satirical heights of M*A*S*H.
His recent track record--eight $100 million hits in 10 years--should ensure that We Were Soldiers will overcome a combat-weary audience already subjected in recent months to Black Hawk Down, Behind Enemy Lines, Hart's War and No Man's Land. Given this glut of war films, We Were Soldiers should open and close somewhere between Braveheart ($12.9 million debut; $75.4 million total) and The Patriot ($22.4 million debut; $113.3 million).
We Were Soldiers should not face much of a direct threat from the Oscar-nominated Black Hawk Down and Hart's War. The Somalia-set Black Hawk Down has $102.1 million through Wednesday after six weeks in wide release, marking director Ridley Scott's third consecutive $100 million hit following Gladiator and Hannibal.
The verdict on Bruce Willis' Hart's War is one of disappointment. The gripping courtroom drama, set in a POW camp toward then end of World War Two, has managed to make a mere $16 million through Wednesday since opening Feb. 15.
Just in time for Lent comes 40 Days and 40 Nights, a sex comedy starring another Pearl Harbor veteran, Josh Hartnett. Actually, this is a comedy about abstinence. Distraught after being dumped by his girlfriend, Hartnett decides to refrain from sex for the aforementioned period of time. His vow results in a battle between the sexes, with Hartnett naturally falling love with Shannyn Sossamon before his 40 days are over.
Delayed by Miramax from its original Aug. 24 release, 40 Days and 40 Nights asks Hartnett to carry a film on his shoulders for the first time. He's enjoyed mixed success as an ensemble player. Pearl Harbor, Black Hawk Down and Halloween: H20 were hits, O, Here On Earth, Blow Dry and Town & Country were not.
40 Days and 40 Nights' R rating prohibits Hartnett from enjoying a possible hit on the scale of the tamer but similarly teen-targeted Shallow Hal and Never Been Kissed. With only the declining Super Troopers to compete against, 40 Days and 40 Nights looks set to open with $10 million on the strength of Hartnett's name, then splutter its way to $30 million.
With the deployment of We Were Soldiers, Queen of the Damned will soon be dead and dethroned. The anemic sequel to Interview with the Vampire opened last weekend at No. 1 with an OK $14.7 million, or a little less than one-third of its predecessor's $36.3 million debut in 1994.
Hardcore fans of Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles novels, and curiosity seekers intrigued by the presence of the late pop singer Aaliyah, no doubt contributed to Queen of the Damned's surprising victory over Denzel Washington's John Q.
Poor word of mouth--especially in regards to Aaliyah's fleeting appearance and Stuart Townsend's poor substitution for Tom Cruise as the Vampire Lestat--will surely drive a stake through the heart of Queen of the Damned. Expect the typical 50 percent drop in business for a horror yarn with no real shot at box office immortality.
Queen of the Damned has $17.3 million through Wednesday, on its way to a possible $35 million, or one-third of Interview with the Vampire's $105.2 million total. The Vampire Lestat may never rise again, at least not in the thin and pasty form of Stuart Townsend.
Kevin Costner's box office woes continue.
The silly, sickly sweet supernatural love story Dragonfly fooled no one into believing that this is a excursion into the unknown, a la The Sixth Sense or The Others. With its $10.2 opening, Dragonfly also failed to surpass the $11.2 million notched in January by the equally bewildering but somewhat creepier The Mothman Prophecies ($34 million through Sunday).
The good news is that, with $12 million through Wednesday, Dragonfly is not a disaster on the scale of last year's 3,000 Miles to Graceland ($15.7 million). The bad news is that it is unlikely to match the totals of Costner's other recent flops For Love of the Game ($35.1 million) and Thirteen Days ($34.5 million). Perhaps it's time for Costner to consider resurrecting plans for his sequel to The Bodyguard.
Dragonfly also ends director Tom Shadyac's streak of three consecutive $100 million hits, established with The Nutty Professor, Liar Liar and Patch Adams.
Denzel Washington's John Q enjoyed a second weekend haul of $12.4 million, slightly trailing the $13.3 million that his hit Training Day made last fall in its second weekend. The anti-HMO hostage thriller has made $42.1 million through Wednesday, less than the $46.9 million that Training Day had made during the same period. At this pace, John Q should walk away with about $65 million vs. the $76.2 million that Training Day purloined.
Taking hostages in the name of a dying son clearly elicits audience sympathy. Seeking revenge following the murder of a wife and child does not. Collateral Damage looks set to become Arnold Schwarzenegger's second consecutive flop following 2000's The 6th Day ($34.5 million). Schwarzenegger's bid to hunt down a Colombian terrorist has resulted in a puny $35.4 million through Tuesday. After dropping 54 percent in its third weekend, from $8.4 million to $3.8, Collateral Damage will likely plummet from the Top 10 this weekend.
Baby, who wants to do it one more time? Britney Spears learned that last weekend when her road trip came to crashing halt. Crossroads dropped 52 percent in its second weekend, from $14.5 million to $7 million, and tumbled out of the Top 10 as the week advanced. Most of Spears' pre-teen fans clearly stormed theaters during the President's Day holiday to see Crossroads, and those that did not may have been barred from doing so last weekend by their parents. Unlike Mandy Moore's chaste A Walk to Remember, Crossroads fleetingly tackles such issues as rape and teen pregnancy.
Crossroads, which has $26.4 million through Monday, is unlikely to match the $38.1 million that A Walk to Remember has through Sunday.
With families not willing to take in Crossroads, Return to Never Land, Big Fat Liar and Snow Dogs continue to do business.
The Peter Pan sequel Return to Never Land enjoyed a second weekend decline of only 24 percent, from $11.8 million to $8.9 million. With $28.4 million through Wednesday, Return to Never land won't need Tinkerbell's help to reach a total of $50 million.
Big Fat Liar fibbed its way to $33.4 million on Monday. Frankie Muniz's attempts to put Hollywood producer Paul Giamatti in his place eased by an acceptable 27 percent in its third weekend, from $8.7 million to $6.3 million. The comedy should secure a total of $45 million.
Snow Dogs slowed 35 percent in its sixth weekend, from $5.1 million to $3.3 million. Cuba Gooding Jr.'s Alaskan adventure has $72.6 million through Sunday, with $80 million expected by the time he crosses the finish line.
Super Troopers arrested $3.9 million in its second weekend, down 37 percent from its $6.2 million debut. The zany law enforcement comedy has $13.3 million through Wednesday, and will likely surpass martial arts spoof Kung Pow: Enter the Fist's $15 million current tally this weekend.
The Oscar race continues to be profitable for the major contenders.
Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring ($284.1 million through Wednesday), Gosford Park ($28.4 million through Sunday) and In the Bedroom ($26.1 million through Sunday) continue to benefit from their Best Picture nominations.
Another Best Picture nominee, A Beautiful Mind, has $133.8 million through Wednesday. It remains to be seen whether star Russell Crowe's British Academy for Film and Television Arts awards post-show shenanigans will hurt his chances for a second Best Actor Oscar and, consequently, the John Forbes Nash Jr. biography's future fortunes.